Welcome back to our Wednesday and Saturday serial installments! We are happy to continue to share The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas.
Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9/ Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14
LUKE TOOK A DEEP BREATH and exhaled. Could this situation get any worse? Chloe sobbed and Nathan apologized over and over.
“Look. This isn’t your fault, man.” Luke put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “There’s no way you could have known these guys were on some kind of con scheme, for goodness’ sake. Especially as you’d never met Sam before.”
Nathan stood up straight, a weight lifted. “The girls didn’t have a photo of him or anything lying around their place. I had no idea what Sam looked like. I swear. I never even thought about the connection with the boat.”
Chloe slid an arm around her husband’s waist. “It’s okay. I know it seems weird and obsessive, but Madi wanted to remove anything that reminded her of Sam. Photos, gifts he bought her, everything to do with her wedding. I don’t blame her, either. She was so jumpy for months after they split up. She thought someone was following her, and in hindsight, maybe she was right. He must have been scheming all along. I should never have doubted her.”
Luke stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I don’t want to be insensitive, but do you know if Sam was ever violent with Madison? Did he ever threaten her physically or anything?”
“No, I don’t think so. I thought he was kind of wimpy. He never gave off any violent vibes and he’s super skinny. Tall, dark, and handsome, I suppose, but not much meat on his bones. Madi never mentioned anything about him being physically abusive—even when she was super mad with him at the end.” She chewed on her thumbnail. “After she uncovered his plan, she was anxious, but I think it was more because she was wounded in her heart than anything else. When she falls for someone, she falls hard.”
Luke met Chloe’s gaze for a beat too long. This was awkward. Could she see how much he cared for her sister? Was he getting in too deep without knowing for sure how Madison felt?
“Okay.” He cleared his throat. “So, we can assume all he wants here is the money.”
Chloe shrugged. “He might not be violent, but Sam kind of gave me the creeps sometimes. He worked for Dad for years and seemed to swoop in on Madison straight after our parents’ accident. But he was so charming toward her, right up until she discovered the truth. I remember she told me it was like a mask fell from his face when she confronted him and he admitted he was purely in the relationship for her money. She said it was as if he transformed into something ugly. I guess he could only keep up the facade for so long.”
“What are we going to do now?” Nathan wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. “We can’t just sit here until noon tomorrow waiting for them to phone. I should go make another call to the bank. A guy I spoke with earlier was looking into the money wire for us. At least then we’ll know what we need to do.”
“I suppose so,” Chloe whispered. “I think I should stay here. You never know—they might try to make contact again, and I don’t want to miss them.” She climbed onto the bed and curled up.
“I’ll call for some room-service snacks to tide us over.” Nathan picked up the menu from the bedside table. “Not that anyone feels like eating right now, but we may be grateful for it later.” He looked up at Luke. “What about you?”
“I’m going to retrace Madison’s steps from this morning. See if I can find anything at all that might give us some clue if there was a struggle.” He checked his pocket for his phone. “I’ll ask around, too. Maybe someone spotted her. We’re presuming she wasn’t taken last night. I saw her to her room and everything was fine. I think it must have happened on her run, but it would be good to get some confirmation.”
Nathan nodded. “Be careful who you speak to. We shouldn’t make it sound like an emergency, or the resort management might want to involve the police.”
“True, especially after our chat with security on Saturday night. Don’t worry. I’ll be subtle. Hey, Chloe, I don’t suppose you know what color running clothes Madison might have worn?”
Chloe turned onto her back. “Of course. Black shorts and black runners. She always wore her hair in a ponytail when she ran. And I’m sure she brought tank tops because we packed together. That’s what she wore when she went running on Saturday morning, too.” She sat up. “Wait. I know what color top she would have worn—hot pink. I remember giving her a hard time for bringing three identical tank tops with her. She said it was a triple pack and she didn’t have the heart to separate them.” Tears pooled in Chloe’s eyes. “She’s such a softie.”
Luke attempted a smile. “Try to get some rest, okay? The phone is right next to you so you won’t sleep through it. But it could be a long night for us all. I’ll be back soon.”
“Luke?” Chloe swallowed. “Please find my big sister. I don’t know what I’ll do without her.”
He nodded and left the room before his emotions got the better of him.
For the next fifteen minutes, Luke spoke to several people in the lobby and down on the beach. He avoided the management staff and questioned a few servers handing out cocktails around the pool and bar areas. No luck. He even shared a photograph from his phone of Madison on Sunday evening at the bonfire. It didn’t jog anyone’s memory.
He gave the ruse that she was running late for an appointment, hoping his casual nonchalance would override his desperate panic. One elderly lady with a British accent swore she saw Madison at the poolside bar an hour before. Luke caught his breath until the daughter apologized and explained her mother had a vivid imagination and suffered from dementia. This was proving to be impossible.
Luke sighed. Nobody had seen her. Not one lead. It was about seven hours since her run, maybe even more. She could be anywhere by now.
Lord, I know You’re with Madison wherever she is. Please keep her calm and safe. Help me to know what to do here. I don’t want to get her into any further trouble, but I’m anxious to do something instead of sitting around waiting. I could do with a double shot of wisdom about now.
He took another peek at the photo on his phone. Her smile lit up her face, and the wind caught her long dark ringlets bouncing around her tanned shoulders. I have to find her somehow.
Luke slid the phone into his pocket and put on his shades. He needed to retrace her jogging route. Yes, that seemed logical. He walked down the beach in the direction Madison must have run that morning. It was the longest stretch, and she had told him it was the best for running. The first dock had two speedboats moored and a couple of resort staff talking to guests. He surveyed the expanse of sand while he marched along, desperate to find something. It’s not like I’m going to find her running shoes with a note or anything…
The beach wasn’t crowded; it hadn’t been all weekend. As he passed the second dock, he noticed it was empty. No glass bottom boat here anymore. Interesting. He continued on. Occasional palm trees dotted the area, and couples found shade beneath little tiki huts. It was almost unnatural. Luke was used to the shrill screams of children playing on the beach and splashing each other in the ocean. He sighed. The little ones at his Mexican orphanage had a piece of his heart, and it was hard to imagine not living in the place where chaos and calm collided daily. Life was never dull, yet there was a serenity that held it all together. Madison would love it there. Madison.
An abandoned black shirt lay in the sand farther along the shore, but someone ran up and claimed it before Luke even came close. The stretch of beach narrowed and a clump of palm trees gave the illusion of an oasis. This was such a gorgeous resort. He hadn’t ventured this far along the shore up until now. What was that up ahead? Something shiny glinted in the sunlight. It was half-buried in the sand and could be nothing, but Luke wasn’t leaving any stone unturned.
When he reached it, he crouched down and his heart almost stopped. He brushed away a section of sand and unearthed a pair of sparkly pink sunglasses. They were Madison’s for sure. He’d held them a couple of days ago when she bumped into him in the lobby, and he noticed she had worn them again yesterday. They had to be hers. Madison.
A cluster of palm trees rose out of the sand about fifty feet away. Had someone surprised her from there? It was possible. He tenderly picked up the glasses, stood, and scanned the beach. No road came close enough to make a quick grab by car. He turned to the ocean. There was a third dock right in front of him, but nothing was tied there at the moment. Luke clutched the shades and gazed down the length of the beach back toward the resort. His stomach knotted.
The glass bottom boat.
It had been moored at the second dock all weekend—he was sure of it. He’d spotted it from his balcony on Friday night when the scuffle took place, and it was there again yesterday. Madison even pointed it out to him and made him promise not to take her out on it. Strange that nobody was using it. Why hadn’t he been suspicious of that? It should be taking regular cruises throughout the day. And now—surprise, surprise—it was nowhere to be seen. Nathan said Sam made some sort of fuss about using one for the wedding ceremony. This had to be the connection.
Luke needed answers. He broke into a jog and headed back to the room to speak with his brother and to confirm with Chloe that he was holding her sister’s glasses.
“Goodness. Yes, yes, these are definitely Madi’s.” Chloe took the sunglasses from Luke and held them with care. “Wherever did you find them?”
Luke groaned. It was further confirmation of the kidnapping route, and it wasn’t easy for any of them to digest. “They were lying in the sand, quite a way down the beach near a clump of palm trees.”
Nathan set mugs of steaming coffee before each of them and they sat around the small table by the French doors. “Caffeine to keep us going. Any other clues? Any idea at all what might have happened, bro?”
Luke took a sip of hot coffee. “It might be nothing, but I want to get everything clear in my head. What’s the deal with this glass bottom boat thing, Chloe? Madison mentioned how much she disliked them and even begged me not to ask her to go out on one, but I didn’t push for why.”
Chloe pursed her lips. “I think glass bottom boats are her idea of the worst possible scenario. Imagine you are petrified of the ocean—wouldn’t it be awful to be able to see right down deep? After that incident when we were kids and she almost drowned, she started having dreams. They were horrid nightmares. I don’t think she’s ever been on a real glass bottom boat, but the thought of it used to freak her out. It grew into a bit of an obsession when she was young, and I guess it left a mark. She mentioned the other day that our parents’ accident dredged up all her bad memories with the ocean. I should have let her unload. She’s always the one who listens.”
“Hey.” Nathan grabbed her hand. “Stop beating yourself up, sweetheart. You two are incredibly close, and I’m sure she would have told you anything important. She knew you had a wedding to plan so must have kept her worries to herself.”
“Yeah, Madi would totally do that. You’re right.” Chloe bit back a sob.
“So, Sam knew for sure about this fear of glass bottom boats?” Luke guessed the answer but had to ask.
“Yes, he knew, all right.” Chloe’s eyes flashed. “They were planning on spending the rest of their lives together, so they shared their fears, hopes, dreams, and everything.”
Luke grimaced. Madison opened her heart fully to a man who wanted to use her. No wonder she was so devastated.
“Sam fed her a load of baloney, of course. But she told him all about her past and the family. He was well aware she’s petrified of deep water, too.”
Luke inhaled. “Nathan, you said Sam suggested using the boat at the wedding, right?”
“Yeah. I thought it was bizarre at the time. In hindsight, he must have known Madison would have taken one look at it and refused to go on board. It doesn’t make sense why he would even go there. Was he planning on taking off with Madison and dumping the rest of the wedding party or something?”
Chloe blew on her coffee. “Did he give a suggestion where it might have fit into the whole wedding package? Was he thinking after the ceremony for a sunset cruise or something? I don’t get it.”
“I can’t remember his exact words. I kiboshed the whole idea because it wasn’t something we intended to include. Plus, you’d already filled me in on Madison’s fear of water. I didn’t want to hear any more about it, and that’s when he started getting all pushy about the boat.”
“I’m sure you loved that.” Luke shot him a look. Nathan did not enjoy being backed into a corner by anyone.
“Right. By that point, the resort was arranged, so I thanked him for getting me set up and said I wouldn’t need his services for anything else. Chloe already decided to go with the resort photographer, so I didn’t hear from Sam again.”
“But why the boat?” Chloe asked. “I still don’t understand the relevance.”
Luke stood and started pacing. “I don’t think he ever intended to use it for the ceremony, guys. I think he planned all along to wait until Madison was alone after the wedding. He would have assumed she was going to have a lot of alone time, right? He knew her well enough to guess she would be taking her morning runs or reading somewhere or walking by herself. My guess is he was biding his time, getting Blue Eyes to watch her routine until the moment was right.”
Nathan nodded. “But the boat?”
“It was on standby. I’m sure it hasn’t been going out on any organized cruises. I haven’t seen it move once from that second dock.”
“Remember when we arrived at the resort?” Chloe clutched Nathan’s arm. “They gave us that orientation and said the resort glass bottom boat was out of action. Didn’t it need some repairs or something?”
“Yeah, you’re right. I know my ears pricked up because of Sam’s request. I’d forgotten all about it up until then.”
Chloe’s forehead crinkled. “Madi and I saw it tied to the second dock the night before the wedding. Remember when we took a walk along the beach after dinner? I even commented on how strange it was to see one there. She was sure someone was on the boat, but I didn’t believe her.”
“Maybe they were watching her that night.” Luke shrugged. “Blue Eyes could have gone from the boat to the lobby while we were at the piano bar. Or it could have been Sam in the boat.”
“I should have listened to my poor sister. She was so upset about seeing some guy aboard, but I didn’t get what the big deal was.”
“There was no way you could have known anything was suspicious, honey.” Nathan rubbed the stubble on his chin. “This is all beyond crazy.”
“True.” Luke’s mind raced as he began piecing together the information. “But I guess it ties in with the scuffle I saw on that dock later the same night.”
Chloe set her coffee down on the table. Hard. “What scuffle? More drama I’m not aware of?”
“It was nothing.” Luke needed to defuse this one. “At least, we didn’t think so at the time. While Nathan was showering, I noticed a bit of a fight break out on the second dock down at the beach. I couldn’t see too well from the balcony, but I yelled, and it seemed to do the trick. The glass bottom boat was definitely moored there then, and a couple of guys were getting heated about something.” If only he had been able to see them up close. Could it have been Sam?
“Yeah, it kind of spooked me for a minute there—hearing Madison talking about the blue eyes and then seeing the glass bottom boat—but I tried to forget about it. I had other things on my mind.” He rubbed his new wedding band and shared a look with Chloe.
“Like a wedding?”
“Something like that.” Nathan pecked her cheek.
It was good to see him back to normal, and it looked as if they were going to work through this ordeal. As long as they found Madison.
Chloe’s blue eyes widened. “Do you think it could have been Sam in the fight?”
“I was wondering the same thing. No way of knowing. It was too far away to see details.” Luke drained the last of his coffee. “At least now I know what I’m going to do next.”
“First I’m going to make some discreet inquiries with the front desk about the glass bottom boat. We need to know for sure if the one we all saw belongs to the resort or to a private company. And then I’m going to take out a speedboat of my own.”
“Why? Where will you go?”
“That glass bottom boat’s not at any of the docks anymore, which leads me to believe it’s how Madison was transported. Her glasses were just feet away from a third dock down the beach—it’s the one option that makes sense. They moved it along to a more remote location.”
“My poor sister must have been petrified being grabbed. And then to be taken in a boat—I can’t even imagine.”
Madison’s scream over the phone echoed in Luke’s mind. “I know. But if that’s the case, how many of those boats could be docked around an island this size?”
Nathan whistled. “Not too many. Do you want me to come with you? Two pairs of eyes will be better than one.”
“I think I’ll be able to spot a boat that size. You should stay with your new wife. But there’s one thing you could do for me.”
“Go online and check out all the glass bottom boats listed for Jamaica on this side of the island. Might save me some conversations.”
“Sounds good. Keep your phone on you. Give me a call before you take off in the boat and I’ll read you the list.” Nathan handed Luke a pad of notepaper and a pen from the bedside table.
Chloe stood. “I need to do something, too. I think I’m going to pop down to Madi’s room again. I still have the key and I might find something there to help us.”
“I’ll come with you. You shouldn’t go alone.” Nathan grabbed his room key from the table. “What do you think might be there?”
Chloe blinked back tears. “I don’t know. But I can’t sit here doing nothing. A clue of some kind? I might be able to tell if she left in a hurry this morning. I know she writes in her journal almost every day, and I hate to pry, but it might have some valuable information in there. And I can make sure her passport is still in the safe, as I have the combination—at least we can rule out her leaving Jamaica. Or I could even find a note. They may have contacted her, too.”
“Good thinking. I should have thought of that earlier.” Luke lifted a brow. What would Madison’s journal reveal? Would he get a mention? “Give me a shout on my cell if there’s anything there, and I’ll let you know if I find something, too, okay? And if you feel like it, now might be a great time to start praying.”
Chloe bit her lip. “It could be dangerous, you know. You don’t have to do this…”
“Yeah, Chloe. Actually, I do.”
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